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NightWatch 20110127


For the Night of 27January 2011

Japan-China: The Japanese Coast Guard reported that it detected the Chinese patrol ship, Yuzheng 201 sailing near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea on Thursday, 27 January. The Chinese ship was seen around in the contiguous zone, just outside Japan's territorial waters, about 29 kilometers northwest of Kuba Island, one of the islets of the Senkaku group, which China claims. .

After spotting the Chinese ship, the coast guard warned it not to enter Japanese territorial waters by radio from its aircraft and patrol boats, its officials said. The Chinese vessel responded by radio, ''The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Chinese territory. We are conducting legitimate operations,'' according to the officials. After about three hours, the ship departed the contiguous zone without entering Japan's territorial waters and headed westward towards China.

The same ship was spotted navigating in the contiguous zone near the islet group in late November. Five Chinese patrol ships, including Yuzheng 201, have been spotted in the contiguous zone near disputed waters since the September incident in which a Chinese trawler rammed a Japanese patrol ship.

Comment: This update indicates Chinese patrol ships are avoiding armed confrontation, such as by entering Japanese territorial waters. While that action would be consistent with the Chinese claim of ownership, it would lead to a clash with Japan. Nevertheless, the radio message from the captain of Yuzheng 201 leaves no doubt that present restraint is not necessarily permanent because there is no flexibility in China's claim to ownership of any region considered Chinese territory.

North Korea: Update. North Korea proposed inter-Korean parliamentary talks to discuss ways to defuse tension on the peninsula, including the resumption of tours to the Mount Kumgang resort and to the joint industrial park at Kaesong, state media reported Friday, 28 January.

South Korea rejected the proposal as insincere.

Comment: This is the fourth North Korean proposal this year for talks or restored interactions with the South. After all the damage the North has inflicted on every program of cooperation, it offers no apologies for disruption no contribution to rebuild the resort or the homes destroyed in the shelling, no humanitarian aid to the families of dead sailors nor any other incentive for the South to agree to more talks. The North overrates the value of its conversations. The South is right to reject the offer.

Yemen: Update. The opposition and the ruling party in Yemen organized eight demonstrations on 27 January, according to the Yemeni Embassy in Washington. The Embassy expressed pleasure that there have been no major clashes or arrests, and police presence was minimal. Yemen supports peaceful assembly, according to the embassy.

Yemeni Interior Minister Mutahar Rashad al-Masri said rallies by political parties and groups are allowed, but Yemen will not tolerate chaos or attacks on security forces. Al-Masri said Yemen does not want anarchy that would endanger public security and abuse democracy in the country, and said security forces will work to ensure stability in the country.

On the 29th, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will preside over a meeting of Cabinet members and governors. Participants in the meeting will address issues of national interest, including the status of development projects, ways to improve the economic and development sectors, raising the standard of living, and combating unemployment and poverty. In addition, Saleh will be briefed on the security situation in the country, arrangements for the upcoming parliamentary elections, and achievements of the president's platform.

Comment: Despite more than two decades of rule, Saleh and his men are trying to reinvent themselves a bit, after the Tunisian developments. Not likely to succeed.

Egypt: Update. Bedouin protesters in Egypt fired two rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at a police station in the Sinai Peninsula town of Sheikh Zuweid on the 27th. One of the rockets hit empty space at the station, while the other missed and hit a nearby medical center. No casualties were immediately reported. Protesters also fired an RPG at another police station outside the town, setting it on fire. The attacks came hours after police shot and killed a protester.

Members of the pro-democracy Egyptian youth group April 6 Movement promised more anti-government demonstrations, defying a government ban on protests and called for mass demonstrations on 28 January after Muslim prayers. According to one demonstrator, after the protests started on Jan. 25, they will not end until the demands of life, liberty and dignity for the Egyptian people have been met

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood announced it will participate in the demonstrations on the 28th. The Brotherhood's Guidance Office said that it is unnecessary for the group to take a leadership role in the protests, but it will maintain a strong street presence if the situation requires it.

Comment: The demonstrations on the 28th will be an important indicator of the durability of the protest movement and the flexibility of the security apparatus.

US Statements: Political and economic reform is absolutely critical to Egypt's long-term well being, U.S. President Barack Obama stated, adding that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was helpful on a range of tough Middle East issues. Pent-up frustrations are being displayed on the streets, but violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt, Obama said. It is very important that people have mechanisms to express legitimate grievances, he said

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for "across-the-board" reforms in Middle Eastern countries experiencing unrest in recent days. At a news conference with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Gates said the United States has been clear in its support for political and human rights.

Comment: After years of backing, arming and tolerating strong man governments, the US now is trying to find language to reach the reformers without abandoning the strong men. And violence often is the only way to stimulate the impulse to fundamental political reform. That is one of the few clear lessons from the fall of the Eastern European communist governments and that of the Soviet Union.

Tunisia: Thousands protested in Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on 27 January, calling for officials from ousted President Ben Ali's government to be expelled in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Tunisia's new government will retain Mohamed Ghannouchi as prime minister, but no other members of the former ruling party will be in the new lineup, political and union sources said. The industry and international cooperation ministers from Ben Ali's government will remain in the government, but neither is a member of the former ruling party. Tunisia's labor union will not join the new government but will approve the government's new composition, a union source told Reuters.

Algeria: The Algerian Cabinet will be reshuffled in coming days, a priority of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, local daily El-Khabar reported. However, an announcement will be delayed possibly to February to avoid being seen as a response to opposition parties' demands. The paper predicted that Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia may be replaced by Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia or Energy and Mines Minister Youcef Yousfi.

Comment: In Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria long time leaders are trying to reinvent themselves or, perhaps just stall for time so they can safeguard their wealth and families.

In Critical Decisions, Irving Janis made the point that catastrophic failure means the whole leadership group must be replaced in business and in politics. There are no second chances; no do-overs. The irony is that by the time failure is recognized, it is too late for the incumbent regime to fix it, even if it has the insight and capabilities. People always want new blood.

That creates a dilemma for incumbent leaders. They all have a set of resources for handling the normal range of challenges. They also have reserves they can draw on in the event of a crisis. However, the only way a regime's leaders can be certain a crisis is occurring is when the normal resources prove incapable of continuing the challenges, as occurred in Tunisia. This is as true for police forces in urban America as it is for security personnel in Cairo.

Recognition that a crisis is emerging, in practice, always occurs after damage has already taken place and forces have faltered. That means that leaders are almost always in a reactive mode. The police have to be overrun before the Army can be called in.

To be proactive would be to act with what appears to be unjustified and unnecessary force because the police have not failed yet. It is a dangerous time because the damage can be so great that the reserve forces of order cannot or might choose not to restore order. In Tunisia, for example, the reserves, in the form of the Army, balked and the head of government fled. Internal uprisings can get out of control with little warning, as a result.

The final point is that the usual diplomatic mantra is that the US has relations with governments and its policies are not tied to people. And yet in every Middle Eastern state, the widespread perception is that US policy is identified with individual rulers, from  the Kings of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco to the strong men in Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria and Egypt. The practice works and policy support flourishes until the leaders are overthrown.

Strongman rulers cannot all of a sudden be generous democrats.

End of NightWatch for 27 January.

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